Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rethinking Snow Days

One of the great joys or curses (depending on your perspective) are snow days. Anyone living in the Midwest, Northeast, or any other location prone to snow storms has experienced the "snow day". At the high school level why do these days need to be lost? Most high school students possess the maturity to handle their own learning on these days. With a little planning these days can be valuable learning days.

Over the summer with the threat of H1N1 possibly closing schools for weeks at a time we discussed as a faculty how to approach this dilemma. Over the last few years our professional development has focused extensively on teaching our staff Web 2.0 literacy in preparation for our shift to 1:1 computing during the 2010-2011 school year. One idea we found compelling was the opportunity of shifting to an online format. Earlier surveys had indicated that 99% of our students possessed home based computers and internet access. What started as a plan for the worse grew into a different idea. The online learning snow-day plan.

In our neck of central illinois we usually experience two to three weather related closings a year that we then make up as emergency days in June. No one really likes the common solution. Families already have vacation plans. Tacking a day on to the end of the spring semester makes no sense when the days lost often occur originally at the end of the fall semester. Everyone just seems to enter "complain" mode. So why not make the days valid by switching to an online format.

We've had the chance to try it out twice this winter. Our first day saw web usage grow by five times our daily average. Many teachers posted assignments on their websites, communicated instructions through email to students, or even held live sessions using free platforms like ustream.

All in all we've found these two days to be a great success. The only ones not happy are perhaps the students whose dreams of sleeping in and sledding all day are dashed by the reality of school work. But they'd gladly trade a few hours on a cold February morning for a day of blissful peace in June.

Here are some links regarding the day:

link to local article in the paper
link to sample web day

To document the learning our teachers fill out a google doc verifying their work.

Unfortunately grade school students probably lack the self-management skills to manage their own learning at home. I'm the father of twin 8 year olds and as you can see below we still found time for fun on the day.

Untitled from charlie roy on Vimeo.